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SUMO: 2017 Kyushu Basho, Senshuraku [The Final Day] (Day 15)

Well, those fifteen days went really quickly! It’s senshuraku [the final day] of the 2017 Kyushu Basho! With his explosive win over M9 Endo and the losses of both M4 Hokutofuji and M12 Okinoumi, yokozuna Hakuho has secured the yusho [tournament championship]—the 4oth of his illustrious career. He still has to fight ozeki Goeido today, but it’s really just to decide whether he’ll win with a 14–1 or a 13–2 record . . . and whether Goeido can reach double-digit victories.

Hakuho began the tournament having publicly predicted a zensho-yusho [perfect record championship], and he very nearly pulled it off. If not to for that mental error of thinking there was a matta [re-do] in his match against sekiwake Yoshikaze, he’d be fighting for that perfect record today, and probably getting it. The thing is, he seems so fit and strong, there seems to be no reason he won’t get a good chance at another zensho-yusho in 2018 (he already has thirteen of them, far and away the most by any rikishi ever).

Another accolade that Hakuho’s win yesterday secured for him was title of Most Wins in 2017. Despite the fact that he was kyujo [absent due to injury] for 25 matches during the year, he managed to rack up 55 wins out of the remaining 65 matches (with there still being the likelihood that he’ll increase that number to 56 today). His closest competitors this year were sekiwake Mitakeumi and M1 Takakeisho (two of the young phenoms who have risen through the ranks this year) who each currently have 53 wins, with one match remaining to fight. 

Speaking of Mitakeumi, he secured his kachi-koshi [majority of wins] yesterday. This means that he’ll remain a sekiwake to begin 2018. It also means that he was kachi-koshi in EVERY basho of 2017, something you don’t normally see from such a young rikishi, particularly given that he spent the whole year near the top of the banzuke [ranking sheet]. (In fact, thanks to all the injury withdrawals, this year Mitakeumi is the ONLY rikishi in the Makuuchi Division to be kachi-koshi in all six of the hon-basho in 2017.) He was M1 in January, and in sanyaku for the rest of the year, which means that he fought pretty much exactly the same mix of opponents that the yokozuna and ozeki did, and he managed to win at least eight matches in EVERY tournament. I think it’s pretty clear that if he can remain injury-free, he’ll be the next rikishi to make a serious run at promotion to ozeki (particularly if the current scandals cause one or more of the yokozuna to retire).

Another eventual ozeki, komusubi Onosho, has struggled hard to overcome his difficult Week 1 schedule (typical for a komusubi) and get his fourth kachi-koshi in a row. He was 1–6 at the end of Week 1, and has 6–1 since nakabi [the middle day]. If he can win today against M5 Takarafuji, he’ll get his eighth win and really prove something about his character.

I’ll try to put together a basho and year-end wrap-up post sometime in the coming week. But until then, let’s have a look at today’s top matches. As I usually do on senshuraku, I’ll list all of the matches that involve rikishi whose records are 7–7 and will have their fates decided today. There are fewer of these than usual, and the Kyokai [Sumo Association] has decided in two cases to pit a pair of 7–7 rikishi against each other, just to ratchet up the tension.

So you know, the term “densha michi” literally means “going by train,” and it is used in sumo to describe a bout where one rikishi charges in hard at the tachi-ai and blows his opponent backwards (and usually off the dohyo). “Hit like a train” would be a good translation.

M6 Chiyoshoma (7–7) vs. M13 Aminishiki (7–7)—Two rikishi who are on the verge between kachi- and make-koshi. Aminishiki is who I’m rooting for. The 39-year-old rikishi has only just returned to the Makuuchi Division and it’s clear what a struggle he’ll have to stay here. Still, he spent the first half of the week showing us that sometimes it pays to bet on experience over youth and power. If Aminishiki wins, he’ll not only get his kachi-koshi, he’ll also be awarded a kanto-sho (fighting spirit special prize). (4:10)
M4 Chiyonokuni (5–9) vs. M13 Takekaze (7–7)—Takekaze is the second-oldest rikishi in the upper division at 38 years old. Like Aminishiki, he’s having a harder time in recent tournaments simply keeping up with the younger rikishi, and it’s good to see him here with a fighting chance to secure a majority of wins. I’m definitely rooting for him. (5:45)
M12 Okinoumi (11–3) vs. M1 Takakeisho (9–5)—After facing M1 Tamawashi yesterday, Okinoumi must face the other M1 today. He’s had a great tournament and regardless of what happens today will be awarded a kanto-sho (fighting spirit special prize) for his effort. Takakeisho continues to show that he’s one of the top young rikishi, and would dearly like to move his record into double-digit wins. Regardless of the outcome, though, he will be awarded a shukun-sho (outstanding performance special prize). (8:35)
M1 Tamawashi (10–4) vs. M4 Hokutofuji (11–3)—Tamawashi finishes off his tournament by facing both of the second-place rikishi—Okinoumi yesterday and Hokutofuji today. Particularly today, he wants to prove his superiority because he and Hokutofuji will be competing for the same promotions as the first banzuke of 2o18 is drawn up. For his part, Hokutofuji will be awarded a gino-sho (technique special prize) due to his incredible performance over the past fortnight. (9:05)
M5 Takarafuji (7–7) vs. komusubi Onosho (7–7)—Another match where two 7–7 rikishi are forced to go head-to-head. Onosho still has never had a make-koshi in the Makuuchi Division (this being only his fourth tournament in the upper division), and he’d for sure like to be promoted to sekiwake in January if possible. (9:40)
Ozeki Goeido (9–5) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (13–1)—The final match of the day has nothing in particular riding on it. Hakuho has secured his 40th yusho, and Goeido has managed to squeak into a kachi-koshi. But, pride being what it is among the top rankers, I expect that this will be a hard-fought match. I also expect that Hakuho will come out the winner without very much trouble. (13:35)

SUMO: 2017 Kyushu Basho (Day 14)

Well, we’ve made it to the final weekend of the 2017 Kyushu Basho. Day 14 dawns with yokozuna Hakuho still alone atop the leaderboard with a 12–1 record, and just two rikishi trailing him at 11–2 (M3 Hokutofuji and M12 Okinoumi). Also we have our ninth (!) kyujo [absence due to injury] of the basho as M15 Myogiryu has withdrawn after getting his eighth loss and guaranteeing make-koshi [majority of losses] and a demotion to Juryo to start of 2018.

Hakuho had one major slip-up, but otherwise has seemed practically unbeatable. If he wins today, he’s guaranteed at least a tie for the championship and a shot at a Day 15 playoff. Presuming for the moment that this happens, each of the trailers must win today or be eliminated from contention. And if Hakuho wins and BOTH trailers lose, then the yokozuna will secure his 40th (!) yusho [tournament championship].

But beyond the yusho race, there are other interesting dramas going on up and down the banzuke. 

Komusubi Onosho is in just his fourth basho at the Makuuchi level. He went 10–5 in all three previous tournaments, but is currently 6–7. He needs to win both of his remaining matches to keep from suffering his first make-koshi in the division . . . which is not to say that he’s had a bad tournament. Komusubi is probably the most difficult ranking, schedule-wise. You spend Week 1 facing all of the yokozuna, ozeki, and sekiwake, hoping to pull out just one or two wins, and then must be near-perfect in Week 2 in order to secure kachi-koshi [majority of wins]. It’s a tough slog, which is one reason why you don’t historically see many rikishi stake out a claim as a “great komususbi.” Onosho seems destined to be a great rikishi of the coming era. So long as he can avoid injury, he’ll surely be a mainstay of the top of the banzuke and is very likely to make it to ozeki eventually. (Hell, he very nearly qualified in his first three tournaments.)

Also at 6–7 and needing to win out to save his rank is sekiwake Yoshikaze. As is his wont, he has looked great when facing the ozeki and yokozuna, but has been slightly less impressive against the rest of the field. In the big picture, all rikishi in a given tournament who are ranked M2 and above face more or less the exact same mix of opponents, the only real difference is the order that they come (see my earlier comment about what makes komusubi such a tough rank). It’s interesting to me that some rikishi seem to be so much better at some ranks than others. Yoshikaze seems to thrive at M1, but to struggle at sekiwake. It’d be interesting to dive into the records and figure out what patterns are really at work there.

I haven’t said much about M3 Hokutofuji this basho, expect to keep mentioning his name as one of the yusho contenders. The fact is, though, that he’s been putting on quite a show. He’s only been in the Makuuchi Division for a little more than a year, but he’s racking up impressive wins and showing himself to be a future star (and may yet walk away with the Emperor’s Cup this basho). 

Other young rikishi who are doing well and showing that the “next generation” is here now include M1 Takakeisho and, of course, sekiwake Mitakeumi. In other words, no matter what the shake-out is of the various scandals being deliberated by the Kyokai [Sumo Association], the sport itself seems poised to be healthy and entertaining for years to come.

Now let’s look at some of the top matches from Saturday.

M10 Kaisei (8–5) vs. M10 Ikioi (7–6)—Two familiar names that haven’t really drawn that much attention this tournament. Both these rikishi have been doing well, but not spectacular. As you can see, Kaisei has his kachi-koshi and Ikioi needs only one more win to secure his. Putting them head-to-head results in a fun bout. (2:00)
M13 Aminishiki (7–6) vs. M8 Chiyomaru (5–8)—Aminishiki started off the basho hot, but has cooled off in Week 2. It seems to me that people remembered what the key was to beating him and have started employing it again, and he may have a very hard time notching that eighth win. Still, he’s got two more chances, beginning with today’s match against Chiyomaru. (3:20)
M1 Tamawashi (9–4) vs. M12 Okinoumi (11–2)—Is this more of a compliment to Okinoumi to bring the M1 down to fight him early on today’s match list, or an insult to Tamawashi for not making his opponent leap up to the later spot on the card that a M1 usually earns? It doesn’t really matter, the facts remain the same—Okinoumi must win to guarantee that he stays in the yusho hunt, and Tamawashi wants to hit double-digit wins to improve his likelihood of promotion to sanyaku in January. (5:55)
Komusubi Kotoshogiku (4–9) vs. M3 Shohozan (3–10)—Another one of those matches where nothing but pride is on the line, and that seems to have spurred the rikishi to new heights. A very fun bout! (8:25)
M3 Hokutofuji (11–2) vs. komusubi Onosho (6–7)—This is probably the marquee match of the day. Hokutofuji must win to guarantee he’s still involved in the yusho race, and Onosho must win if he hopes to pull out a kachi-koshi. They’re two of the brightest young stars in the sport, and their head-to-head rivalry is likely to be going on for the next decade or more. (9:25)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (7–6) vs. M5 Arawashi (8–5)—One can forgive Mitakeumi for looking a little overwhelmed when he faced Hakuho on Day 12, but he also seemed mentally elsewhere yesterday in his match against Ichinojo. He still needs one more win to get his kachi-koshi, and I’m sure he’d rather not leave that to the final day. Meanwhile, Arawashi has had himself a very good tournament and still has a shot at double-digit wins. (12:30)
M9 Endo (9–4) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (12–1)—It says something about how many of the top rikishi are absent that on Day 14 Hakuho is fighting someone ranked at M9. Sure, Endo is a very popular rikishi with a very good record, but in the final weekend a yokozuna is supposed to be fighting against other yokozuna, or at least ozeki. But there’s only one of those still in the competition, so the Scheduling Committee had to find SOMEONE for Hakuho to fight. That’s not to say this is necessarily a walk-over. Endo HAS beaten Hakuho once in the five times they’ve met. But Hakuho has to be the odds-on favorite by a longshot. (14:35)

SUMO: 2017 Kyusho Basho (Day 13)

It’s Day 13 of the Kyushu Basho, and it seems like there’s more news about what’s going on OFF the dohyo than about the matches themselves. That said, let’s make ourselves keep the tournament itself front and center, at least for the moment. 

Yokozuna Hakuho’s win over sekiwake Mitakeumi keeps him alone atop the leaderboard with an 11–1 record. The two rikishi immediately trailing him with matching 10–2 records are M3 Hokutofuji and M13 Okinoumi. Hakuho looked unaffected by his Day 11 loss, getting right back to business and dominating Mitakeumi in a match that lasted less than five seconds.

And just to add to the complication in scheduling the final weekend, ozeki Takayasu is going kyujo [absent due to injury] after reinjuring his right thigh in his loss to M3 Hokutofuji yesterday. Takayasu was kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] at the start of the tournament, but managed to get his eighth win on Day 10, so he’ll squeak by with a final record of 8–5–2 kachi-koshi [majority of wins].

Even worse (from my Grinchy position) is that Takayasu was scheduled to fight ozeki Goeido today . . . which means that Goeido will get his all-important eighth win via a walk-over freeby and secure his kachi-koshi despite having been fighting like a limp ragdoll for the past three days. Given his current performance, and the way he completely imploded at the end of September’s tournament, I really WANTED him to have to EARN his majority of wins. Such is not to be, though.

Outside the dohyo, there has been no further blowback other than the reprimand Hakuho received from the Sumo Association’s Judging Department. And given that Hakuho has publicly said that he was in the wrong and that his behavior was “inexcusable,” that’s probably the last we’ll hear of it. 

Two other yokozuna seem to be in less favorable light with the Kyokai [Sumo Association]. Rumors are swirling that after the completion of the Kyushu Basho, the sumo elders will announce that both Kisenosato and Kakuryu are on notice that if they do not return to the ring in January AND compete in all fifteen days of the tournament, they will be asked to retire. Of course, if they DO compete and rack up more than five losses apiece, they’ll likely ALSO be asked to retire. So basically, if the rumors are correct, they’re being told to “get healthy, or get out.”

In 2017 Kakuryu has participated in only thirty-five of the total ninety matches in this year’s basho, including missing the final two tournaments completely. Kisenosato won the first two tournaments of the year, but has participated in only twenty-seven of the total sixty matches after that and missed one entire tournament.

Meanwhile, in the Harumafuji scandal, things have gotten really strange. Bear in mind that the Sumo Association will not speak publicly about this investigation until after the end of the Kyushu Basho, so all of these details come from leaks and outside investigation. 

Apparently, the yokozuna did NOT hit Takanoiwa with a beer bottle—it was just his fists and a glass ashtray. This really doesn’t make things any better for him, but it makes things more complicated for Takanoiwa’s oyakata, Takanohana, who it is said has been caught hiding facts or telling outright  lies to the investigators on multiple occasions. After this was discovered, the head of Sumo Association asked Takanohana to cooperate fully with the Crisis Management Committee, to which the oyakata replied, “I respectfully decline,” and then walked out of the meeting. 

According to one source, after the fight Takanoiwa “was scared of his oyakata,” and tried to keep the incident secret but, “the tokoyama [sumo hair dresser] was having a hard time doing his hair, and his head and ear hurt badly.” Takanoiwa eventually went to the hospital, and Takanohana Oyakata made his first (now know to be inaccurate) report to the Kyokai.

Making things even stranger, ex-yokozuna Asashoryu seems to have stepped into the picture, who himself was forced to retire in 2010 after a scandal caused by him brawling at a Tokyo nightclub. Asashoryu is now a Special Envoy to the President of Mongolia, and based on his advice it is said that the president wants to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to discuss the situation (since all the rikishi involved are Mongolian). With sumo only in recent years regaining widespread popularity nationally, the last thing the Kyokai wants is to be caught in the middle of an international incident. 

But that’s all based on rumors. 

Meanwhile, here are the facts (or at least my opinions) about the best of today’s matches.

M14 Kotoyuki (7–5) vs. M7 Shodai (6–6)—Kotoyuki is still trying to get his kachi-koshi, but he’s run into the problem that people know HOW to beat him. The question each day is whether or not that opponent can pull it off. (3:40)
M13 Okinoumi (10–2) vs. M6 Tochnoshin (7–5)—I love matches like this. Two big rikishi who like to do power sumo, each with something on the line. Tochinoshin is still looking for his kachi-koshi, and Okinoumi is trying to stay in the yusho race. (5:30)
M3 Shohozan (3–9) vs. komusubi Onosho (5–7)—Onosho continues to stave off make-koshi. Today, he’s going against street-fighting Shohozan whom he has never before beaten. (9:30)
Komusubi Kotoshogiku (3–9) vs. M4 Chiyomokuni (4–8)—This is another one of those matches where neither rikishi has anything on the line other than pride, and they prove how much that means in the sumo world. They’re both having pretty rotten tournaments, but they’ve still got some really good sumo in them. (10:35)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (7–5) vs. M4 Ichinojo (8–4)—Mitakeumi looked a little stupefied in his match against Hakuho yesterday. He still needs one more win to get kachi-koshi. On the other hand, Ichinojo put more effort into yesterday’s win over Goeido than he has all his previous matches combined, and he secured his kachi-koshi. I don’t know what that means exactly, but it should lead to a fun bout. (12:00)
M3 Hokutofuji (10–2) vs. sekiwake Yoshikaze (6–6)—Hokutofuji is one win behind the leader and must keep winning to stay that way (and hope that Hakuho slips up a second time). Meanwhile, giant-killer Yoshikaze still needs two more wins to get his kachi-koshi. (13:00)
M5 Takarafuji (7–5) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (11–1)—Hakuho needs to keep winning to stay in the lead for the yusho, Takarafuji needs one more win for his kachi-koshi . . . but none of that prepares you for what happens in this bout. It’s flat out one of the coolest matches I’ve ever seen. (14:10)

SUMO: 2017 Kyushu Basho (Day 12)

It’s Day 12 of the Kyushu Basho, and Thanksgiving here in the U.S. One of the things I’m thankful for today is that Hakuho made such a bizarre error yesterday and as a result the yusho [tournament championship] race is back to being at least nominally competitive!

If you haven’t watched yesterday’s final match, you probably want to do so before reading further. Start at 13:25 on yesterday’s video.

Now, the thing you DIDN’T see on that video was how long Hakuho stood arguing with the shimpan [ring judges], and that even after the decision was made and Yoshikaze left the ring, Hakuho continued to stand there for another half-minute or so in protest. Also, because he was protesting, Hakuho never actually bowed to Yoshikaze, which is extremely unsportsmanlike.

All I can say is . . . What the heck was Hakuho thinking?!? He knows damn well that only the gyoji [referee] or a shimpan can call a matta [re-do]. The only excuse I can think of is that Hakuho thought he heard someone call matta, otherwise there’s no reason to stop once the fight begins—you finish the fight and THEN argue for the re-do. As it was, he stood up in a completely vulnerable position and had absolutely NO chance to defend himself (which I suppose is part of his argument, but not a winning part). Slow motion replays showed that it clearly was NOT a matta, Yoshikaze simply employed a slight delay in his tachi-ai [initial charge] in hopes to get a better inside grip. Hakuho, I think, was a victim of his own expertise. He KNEW that Yoshikaze was faster than that and presumed the reason the tachi-ai was slow was that Hakuho himself had jumped the gun. But it’s clear on the video that they were in sync and it was a clean tachi-ai.

I guess you still CAN fool Hakuho some of the time!

[UPDATE: This morning, Hakuho and his oyakata [stable master] were called in before the Judging Department and reprimanded. Afterward, Hakuho talked to the press saying, “I did what I did because I don’t think the fans want to see that kind of sumo. I just wanted the shimpan [ring judges] to view the replay.” He later added that after seeing the replay himself he realized, “it was my mistake, so my behavior really is inexcusable.”]

Anyway, there’s no going back in sumo once a decision has been made. Hakuho has his first loss of the tournament, and now M3 Hokutofuji and M12 Okinoumi are only one win behind him in the yusho race! 

In other matches, I’m beginning to worry that Goeido might be about to implode the way he did in September . . . only this time he isn’t leading the tournament. In fact, he still hasn’t even gotten his kachi-koshi [majority of win]. He needs to pull himself together and get that eighth win. Luckily, he faces M4 Ichinojo today, and if anyone’s head is further out of the game than the ozeki’s, it’s Ichinojo.

The other ozeki, Takayasu, got his kachi-koshi yesterday by beating the self-same Ichinojo, and doing so quite handily. He’s now erased his kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] status and is secure that he’ll begin 2018 as an ozeki in good standing. His big test now is to try to reach double-digit wins (like an ozeki should). If he does, then all of his Week 1 stumbling will be forgotten and the pundits will again start talking about how he can improve well enough to win a yusho and then make a bid for a yokozuna promotion. 

Today’s Top Thanksgiving Matches include:

M12 Okinoumi (9–2) vs. M13 Aminishiki (7–4)—Okinoumi remains one win behind the leader, while Aminishiki remains one win shy of his kachi-koshi. I think that Aminishiki benefitted in Week 1 from everyone having forgotten how clever he is, and suffered in Week 2 from everyone remembering that he’s 39 years old and can be muscled around. (0:10)
M9 Endo (8–3) vs. M15 Miyogiryu (6–5)—Two popular rikishi who are about the same size, use similar tactics, and both are trying to re-establish their reputations. A high-speed, high-powered match worth waiting for. (2:15)
M2 Chiyotairyu (4–7) vs. komusubi Onosho (4–7)—Two rikishi, both on the verge of make-koshi [majority of losses] makes for a fight tinged with desperation. That one of them is Onosho, who until now has never failed to get not only kachi-koshi but double-digit wins, only adds to the mix. (9:35)
M4 Chiyonokuni (3–8) vs sekiwake Yoshikaze (6–5)—Yoshikaze got a surprise (even to him) win over Hakuho yesterday, but he still needs two more wins to get his kachi-koshi. Chiyonokuni is fighting for pride, and for a chance to beat the guy who just beat Hakuho. (10:05)
Ozeki Goeido (7–4) vs. M4 Ichinojo (7–4)—Two rikishi on the edge of kachi-koshi. Ichinojo is on a three-match losing streak, Goeido is on a two-match losing streak, but one of them will change that today. Really, it should be Goeido all the way. Ichinojo hasn’t done anything but push and lean all tournament. But I’m afraid that Goeido is too deep in his own head and may find a way to lose no matter what. I pick on these two a lot because they both have great potential that they habitually squander. I’d be happier if they both just fought well all the time. (11:40)
M3 Hokutofuji (9–2) vs. ozeki Takayasu (8–3)—This should be one of the best matches of the day—the still new ozeki against the young challenger with his eye on sanyaku. They are another pair whose size and sumo styles sync up surprisingly well.  (13:55)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (7–4) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (10–1)—So, Hakuho had an uncharacteristic lapse yesterday and blew his chance at a zensho-yusho [perfect record tournament championship]. When he does that, he almost always comes back with redoubled focus the next day, which would be bad for Mitakeumi (who is still harboring a sprained big toe). On the other hand, Mitakeumi is amazing for his ability to learn from losses and apply those lessons to his next matches. And he still needs one more win for his kachi-koshi. Still, my bet is a very quick win for the yokozuna. (14:55)

SUMO: 2017 Kyushu Basho (Day 11)

It’s Day 11 of the Kyushu Basho and yokozuna Hakuho maintains a two-win lead over his nearest competition. Hakuho is 10–0, while the number of 8–2 rikishi has dropped to two—M3 Hokutofuji and M12 Okinoumi.

The tournament isn’t quite at the point where Hakuho’s victory is assured, but we have arrived at the juncture where it will take some surprising turns of fate to make this a competitive race for the yusho [tournament championship]. The biggest active question is whether or not Hakuho is going to be able to pull off another zensho-yusho [perfect record championship]. If he does, that will mean that in 2017 he will have won three of the six honbasho [grand tournaments], and that his record in those winning efforts would be a collective 44 wins out of 45 matches.

Interestingly, despite being mostly absent for one of the 2017 tournaments, and completely absent from another one, Hakuho STILL is in the running to most wins for the year. He started the Kyushu Basho with 42 wins, trailing only four rikishi—Harumafuji (47), Mitakeumi (45), Takayasu (44), and Takakeisho (43)—and he has already passed them all to take the lead. The current totals (as of the end of Day 10) are: Hakuho (52), Takayasu & Mitakeumi (51), Takakeisho (50) . . . just another form of competition for you to keep track of as we wind toward the end of the 2017 sumo campaign.

But in the main competition, here are the best bouts from Day 11.

M12 Okinoumi (8–2) vs. M12 Kagayaki (6–4)—This should be a good match. Two big rikishi who struggled near the top of the banzuke [ranking sheet] but have regained their confidence here in the lower half of the Division. Okinoumi has gotten his kachi-koshi [majority of wins] and so will get promoted next basho, and is one of the second-place competitors hoping that Hakuho will somehow slip up . . . twice. Kagayaki, hasn’t gotten his kachi-koshi yet, but he seems well positioned to do so if he keeps performing well. Only one of them, though, will notch their next win today. (0:35)
M9 Endo (7–3) vs. M15 Nishikigi (5–5)—Endo seems to have found the remedy for whatever has been ailing him through most of 2017. He’s looked strong and quick, and made some clever moves in the ring. One more win and he’ll get his kachi-koshi and jump back into the upper section of the Maegashira ranks to begin 2018. On the other hand, Nishikigi is still struggling, even at the bottom of the banzuke. He must win three of his final five matches in order to avoid demotion into Juryo to start the new year. (2:45)
M4 Ichinojo (7–3) vs. ozeki Takayasu (7–3)—Two rikishi on the verge of kachi-koshi. However, Ichinojo will have to put in more of an effort than he did yesterday against Hakuho. Just being big isn’t near enough to win against the top-rankers. I haven’t mentioned it much, but the fact of the matter is that Takayasu is kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] this basho. The reason I haven’t been talking about it is that he’s been putting in a pretty solid ozeki performance and his kachi-koshi has never really seemed in doubt. Of course, he hasn’t been nearly as impressive as he was in the tournaments leading up to his promotion. If he wants to look like a REAL champion, then he’ll have to handle Ichinojo as matter-of-factly as Hakuho did yesterday. If he does, he’ll erase his kadoban status AND take the first real step on his quest for his final promotion. (11:00)
Ozeki Goeido (7–3) vs. M3 Hokutofuji (8–2)—Goeido’s loss to Mitakeumi yesterday showed once again is feet of clay. He’d better snap up his kachi-koshi quickly or he’ll be heading into his weekend showdowns with Takayasu and Hakuho still needing an eighth win. On the other hand, Hokutofuji has had a great tournament, already securing his majority of wins AND being the other rikishi most-directly trailing Hakuho. (11:40)
Sekiwake Yoshikaze (5–5) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (10–0)—Yoshikaze always brings his A-Game when he faces Hakuho, not that it generally does him much good. He’s only ever beaten the yokozuna once in sixteen tries, but he never looks intimidated, he comes out swinging and driving forward for all he’s worth. Still, the only time Hakuho wasn’t able to handle that handily was a day before he went kyujo due to leg injury. (13:25)

SUMO: 2017 Kyushu Basho (Day 10)

It’s Day 10 of the Kyushu Basho, and there’s a significant change on the leaderboard. Oh, not at the very top. Yokozuna Hakuho still is all alone there with a perfect 9–0 record. The change is that ALL of the rikishi who were immediately behind Hakuho lost yesterday, creating a two-win gap between him and his closest competition. There are currently six rikishi with 7–2 records—ozeki Goeido, M1 Tamawashi, M3 Hokutofuji, M4 Ichinojo, M5 Arawashi, and M12 Okinoumi—and their only hope of contending for the yusho [tournament championship] is for Hakuho to lose TWICE and for them to perform perfectly for the rest of the basho. That seems like a tall order for ANY of them. In fact, the only one that I think has any kind of realistic chance is Goeido IF he gets focused again (highly unlikely) and IF he can find a way to beat Hakuho when the fight on senshuraku [the final day] (even MORE unlikely).

I say that Goeido and Hakuho will fiight on Day 15 because as of today yokozuna Kisenosato is kyujo [absent due to injury], so Goeido is now that highest ranking challenger in the competition, which means he will get the honor of fighting against Hakuho in the final match of the final day.

I’m glad that Kisenosato has withdrawn. It’s been clear for days that he’s nursing some kind of injury (I think that it’s a left thigh strain) that makes it impossible for him to do anything but fight defensively. He needs to rest, possibly skipping another whole tournament, until his injuries heal. Otherwise, this first Japanest-born yokozuna since 2004 will find his career may not last two full calendar years. [EDIT: Reports say Kisenosato’s injury is to a ligament in his knee.]

Onosho looked good in his win yesterday. Komusubi is a very difficult rank because their schedules are usually front-loaded, with Week 1 being matches against all of the opponents ranked above them—yokozuna, ozeki, and sekiwake. It’s only in Week 2 that they begin facing lower-ranked rikishi. Onosho got two wins in Week 1 and another yesterday. There wasn’t anything particularly wrong with the way he fought (aside from being understandably anxious and rushing himself a bit), and if he keeps his spirits high there’s no reason he can’t have a great record in Week 2, saving his kachi-koshi [majority of wins].

Goeido, on the other hand, notched a seventh win yesterday against sekiwake Yoshikaze, but it was more by luck than skill. The whole bout was a mess for BOTH rikishi, and Goeido was a hair’s breadth away from losing when he realized that his opponent was in just as terrible a situation as he was. Indeed, it seemed as though Goeido had conceded the loss (at least in his own mind), which isn’t the kind of thing that a rikishi contending for a yusho should EVER do.

All of the rikishi have six matches remaining in the tournament. How they approach those matches will have a great deal to do with what they get out of them.

Now here’s a look at today’s top matches.

M7 Daishomaru (3–6) vs. M12 Okinoumi (7–2)—Okinoumi is one of the six rikishi tied for second place. He slipped up yesterday, lookingalmost disinterested during his quck loss to M14 Kotoyuki. If he can get the fire back in his belly, there’s no reason he shouldn’t go right back to his winning ways. (3:40)
M6 Chiyoshoma (4–5) vs. M9 Daiesho (4–5)—Two mid-level rikishi, both scrambling to get their kachi-koshi [majority of wins], and both currently sitting at 4–5 records. Getting this fifth win is more of a psychological edge than a real one.  (5:10)
M9 Endo (6–3) vs. M5 Arawashi (7–2)—Arawashi is another second-place rikishi, and today he faces off against fan favorite Endo. Certainly, this is one of the matches that will garner the most hooting and hollering from the crowd, and that often spurs the rikishi on to greater performances. (7:30)
M2 Chiyotairyu (4–5) vs. M3 Hokutofuji (7–2)—These two rikishi are very similar physically, and fight with very stimilar stlyes of sumo. That often makes for interesting, hard-fought matches. (8:00)
M1 Tamawashi (7–2) vs. komusubi Onosho (3–6)—Onosho is trying to turn his fortunes around after a pretty unlucky Week 1, and so far he’s doing a very good job. Today he faces one of the six second-place rikishi in Tamawashi, another pairing that will likely turn into a long-term rivalry over the coming years. (10:05)
Ozeki Goeido (7–2) vs. sekiwake Mitakeumi (5–4)—Goeido is on the verge of slipping into one of his self-imposed doldrums, and Mitakeumi is still suffering from the effects of his badly sprained toe. The question is, which one will rise above his challenges and grab victory today? (5–4)
M4 Ichinojo (7–2) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (9–0)—Hakuho is unbeaten and looking to remain that way. Ichinojo is big and lazy, and likewise looking to remain that way. Okay, that’s harsh even for me. But so far this tournament, Ichinojo’s “winning strategy” has been to “loom & lean” over and on his opponents until they make a mistake trying to get out from under his bulk. I don’t see that strategy working against Hakuho, so unless Ichinojo has some other trick up his sleeve, I don’t even consider the outcome of this match in question. (14:40)

SUMO: 2017 Kyushu Basho (Day 9)

It’s Day 9 of the Kyushu Basho, the start of Week 2, and yokozuna Hakuho sits alone atop the leaderboard with a perfect 8–0 record. That makes him the first to reach kachi-koshi [majority of wins] and in fine form for what lies ahead. Directly behind him with 7–1 records are a trio of rank-and-file rikishi—M4 Ichinojo, M5 Arawashi, and M12 Okinoumi.

Some interesting tidbits have leaked from the investigation into the Harumafujo/Takanoiwa incident. Apparently, the fracas was a continuation of some argument that had begun several days earlier on the jungyo [exhibition tour], where Takanoiwa was giving lip to Hakuho about needing to retire saying that “it’s our generation’s turn now.” At the bar on the evening of the incident, Takanoiwa apparently continued to show disrespect to Hakuho, and THAT’S what sent Harumafuji into a rage.

This is intriguing because it sheds some light on the fact that prior to the start of the tournament, Hakuho publicly said that he was aiming for a zensho-yusho [perfect record championship] and anything else would be a disappointment. Making that kind of brash statement is not something Hakuho or any of the yokozuna generally do—humility being one of the marks of a great champion, and something the Kyokai [Sumo Association] is pretty strict about. But in this case, it strikes me that this might be Hakuho’s way of thumbing his nose at the idea that his time has past. Basically saying to Takanoiwa and any other disgruntled mid-career rikishi, “If you want my spot, come and take it. All you have to do is beat ME!” (A statement that seems even stronger given that in the last few days Hakuho has faced several of the top young contenders and beaten them all quite handily.)

Another tidbit involves Takanohana Oyakata, the stablemaster for Taknoiwa’s heya AND the sumo elder in charge of the jungyo. Apparently, the Kyokai is going to reprimand him for not being mindful enough about the health of rikishi on the tour (he having taken a week to send Takanoiwa to the hospital for treatment, and even longer to report the incident to the committee at large). Rumor is that Takanohana will be removed from his jungyo responsibilities and placed on some other, less prestigious assignment.

Meanwhile, back in the tournament itself, here are today’s top matches.

J9 Terutsuyoshi (2–6) vs. J14 Takagenji (5–3)—A match from the middle of the Juryo division that is notable because of the rare kimarite [winning tchnique] that is employed. (0:10)
M12 Okinoumi (7–1) vs. M14 Kotoyuki (3–5)—Okinoumi is looking good this basho, and Kotoyuki is looking like he wants a quick trip back down to Juryo. But there’s something about encroaching make-koshi [majority of losses] that gives a rikishi incentive to find a way to win. Kotoyuki better find that starting today. And if he does, Okinoumi needs to add determination to his list of newly rediscovered skills. (1:55)
M10 Kaisei (5–3) vs. M7 Shodai (3–5)—This match doesn’t have anything to do with the yusho hunt, but it does have some hard-fought sumo. (5:45)
M7 Daishomaru (2–6) vs. M4 Ichinojo (7–1)—I pick on Ichinojo a lot because he never brings anything other than his size into the ring. But yesterday he beat yokozuna Kisenosato, so maybe he is getting ready to put in some effort and fight for his chance at the yusho. Maybe. (7:35)
M5 Arawashi (7–1) vs. M2 Tochiozan (0–8)—Tochiozan is still winless. In fact, he got is make-koshi as fast as it can be gotten. One of two things is likely to happen now, either he’ll curl up inside himself and be lucky to pull out even a single victory this tournament, or he’ll suddenly get a fire in his belly and fight to salvage whatever he can to minimize the distance he’ll drop down the banzuke [ranking sheet]. Arawashi, on the other hand, is on a roll. Other than his Day 4 loss to Ichinojo, he’s been perfect. For his sake, I hope he stays focused today, rather than counting this win as a foregone conclusion. (8:55)
M1 Takakeisho (6–2) vs. komusubi Onosho (2–6)—I feel bad for Onosho. After getting 10–5 records in his first three tournaments in Makuuchi, it’s now clear that he will do no better than nine wins in this one . . . and he’s going to have to fight hard to get that. Fortunately for him, the toughest part of his schedule is now behind him. If his spirit remains strong, and he fights the way he did in Week 1, he’’s likely to steamroll most of his Week 2 opponents. Of course, today he faces a legitimate challenger in Takakeisho. That makes this a good measure of the komusubi’s mettle. (11:00)
M4 Chiyonokuni (1–7) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (8–0)—Hakuho seems like a man on a mission this basho. This is the stretch in any tournament, though, where he has to guard against overconfidence and just go out and get it done. Of course, with thirty-nine yusho already won, he’s very much aware of that. (15:20)
Yokozuna Kisenosato (4–4) vs. M5 Takarafuji (3–5)—I’m honestly surprised that Kisenosato is still fighting. After his loss to Ichinojo yesterday, and giving up his third kinboshi [gold star award for a Maegashira rikishi beating a yokozuna], I figured he’d go kyujo [absent due to injury] if only to save some face. Clearly, though, he still has something that he’s fighting for.But if he loses again, he pretty much HAS TO go kyujo or it will start the Kyokai debating about whether or not he’s got what it takes to be a long-term yokozuna. (16:05)


SUMO: 2017 Kyushu Basho Nakabi [Middle Day] (Day 8)

It’s nakabi [the middle day] of the Kyushu Basho and yokozuna Hakuho remains undefeated and alone atop the leaderboard. Five rikishi are one loss behind him, but they are ALL rank-and-file Maegashira rikishi—M3 Hokutofuji, M4 Ichinojo, M5 Arawashi, M12 Okinoumi, and M13 Aminishiki. 

Hakuho notched an important win yesterday, not only for this tournament but for making a statement that he’s not ready to step aside for the next generation yet. He squared off against the 21-year-old Onosho, who currently is the face of the new wave of up-and-comers, this despite his poor showing this basho (such is to be expected the first time a rikishi is ranked in sanyaku . . . it’s a whole different world at the top of the banzuke [ranking sheet]. It was the first time these two fought, and while Hakuho didn’t put on the same dominant performance he did during all of Week 1, he neither had any real trouble outmaneuvering the youngster and grabbing his seventh win.

Yokozuna Kisenosato, on the other hand, continued to look like his left leg was still bothering him in a hard-fought loss to M3 hokutofuji (the third kinboshi [gold star award for a Maegashira rikishi beating a yokozuna] he’s given up this basho. I think it will only be another day or two until Kisenosato admits that he’s hurt and goes kyujo [absent due to injury] just to save face.

Speaking of kyujo, we have M11 Aoiyama returning from a four-day injury absence. He’s trying to avoid having a record so bad that he gets demoted all the way out of the Makuuchi Division. Since he’ll be picking up with a 1–2–4 record, it seems unlikely that he’ll manage to salvage kachi-koshi. But if he can get five or more wins, he’ll probably be able to avoid having to sink into Juryo to start 2018.

Ozeki Goeido, who looked very strong in the early going, has now lost two matches in a row and fallen well off the pace of the yusho hunt. At the beginning of the tournament, I predicted that he’d have a weak tournament and likely would be make-koshi in Kyushu, and it seemed like he was going to make me eat those words. If he doesn’t pull out of this losing streak quickly, though, he may make me look like a stellar prognosticator.

Meanwhile, ozeki Takayasu is kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] this tournament. And though he still seems less than 100% healthy, a win today will put him just two away from securing his kachi-koshi and his rank.

Looking further down the banzuke, it’s been a lot of fun to see some fan favorite rikishi shaking off their doldrums and looking competitive again. Rikishi like M9 Endo, M10 Ikioi, and M12 Okinoumi have been putting in consistently strong performances. But the most fun has come from watching thirty-nine-year-old M13 Aminishiki return to the Makuuchi Division after a year in Juryo, and not only do well, but keep himself in the yusho hunt through the middle weekend. 

The top matches for Sunday include:

M12 Okinoumi (6–1) vs. M14 Daiamami (2–5)—Okinoumi seems like he’s finally shaken off whatever has been dragging him down all year long. He’l looking strong and confident, and he’s not rushing his sumo. This is his first time facing Daiamami, who is a Makuuchi Division rookie, so anything could happen. (0:50)
M9 Endo (4–3) vs. M13 Aminishiki (6–1)
—Two fan favorites, a very typical nakabi pairing. Endo is looking better than he has in a few tournaments, but Aminishiki is really on a hot streak (if you don’t count his first loss yesterday). They’re both skill-based rikishi, so it should be fun seeing whose sumo is sharper today. (3:25)
M8 Chiyomaru (3–4) vs. M5 Arawashi (6–1)—Arawashi has quietly been having a very good tournament, his one loss coming on Day 4 against Ichinojo (who also is 6–1 at this point). Chiyomaru, on the other hand has been hot and cold. I give the edge to Arawashi, even if Chiyo is hot. (5:35)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (5–2) vs. M1 Takakeisho (5–2)
—Two future stars early in what should be a rivalry to watch develop over the coming years. They’re 1–1 so far head-to-head. With Mitakeumi’s injured toe, I think that Takakeisho has an edge today . . . but over the course of years I think Mitakeumi is going to get the better of this rivalry. (9:40)
Yokozuna Kisenosato (4–3) vs. M4 Ichinojo (6–1)—Kisenosato must either start winning or go kyujo [absent due to injury]. It’s clear that something’s wrong with his left leg, and if it’s so bad that he can’t beat Ichinojo, he needs to sit down and rest. Ichinojo has amassed a 6–1 record by his usual tactic of looming over opponents until they make a mistake. When facing a yokozuna, he really should have no chance to win . . . but Kisenosato’s condition makes all the difference. (12:40)
M3 Hokutofuni (6–1) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (7–0)—Today Hakuho faces another star of the future. The yokozuna made quick work of Onosho yesterday, now it’s Hokutofuji’s turn to see what he can do against the “old man.” (13:55)

SUMO: 2017 Kyushu Basho (Day 7)

It’s Day 7 of the Kyushu Basho and we’re down to just a single combatant atop the leaderboard with an undefeated record—yokozuna Hakuho! Unfortunately, I’m quite pressed for time today, so I can’t give a thorough assessment of yesterday’s action or what dramatic situations it creates. But I can point out the best of today’s matches and present the video for your enjoyment.

M13 Takekaze (2–4) vs. M13 Aminishiki (5–1)—When the two oldest rikishi in the top division go head-to-head, you get a total of 77 years of sumo experience on the dohyo at once. That’s bound to produce some interesting results. (0:36)
M12 Okinoumi (5–1) vs. M10 Ikioi (3–3)—Two popular rikishi, even though their fortunes haven’t been so great most of this year. Okinoumi is still on the leaderboard, and Ikioi is looking more confident than he has in several tournaments.  (2:40)
Ozeki Goiedo (5–1) vs. M3 Shohozan (3–3)—Goeido had his first slip-up yesterday. The big question is whether he can get back on course today and stay in the hunt for the yusho [tournament championship], or if he’s going to have another one of his patented uncalled for losing streaks. His opponent today is Shohozan—another tough, slap-and-thrust, streetfighting rikishi. When these two square off, it’s always a wild, brutal affair. (10:25)
Komusubi Onosho (1–5) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (6–0)—This is the first meeting between Hakuho and the young phenom Onosho. I expect Onosho to slow himself down and focus, because surely he can’t be overconfident in his chances against the greatest yokozuna of the era (probably of all time). Of course, I also expect that there’s nothing that the youngster can show that Hakuho doesn’t have an answer for. (11:35)
Yokozuna Kisenosato (4–2) vs. M3 Hokutofuji (5–1)—Kisenosato certainly seems to be on his way to a kachi-koshi [majority of wins], but that’s not really good enough as a yokozuna. If you ask me, it seems like his left thigh is still injured and he’s fighting every match defensively. This is fine until he faces opponents who are strong enough to push around his 240kg body. Hokutofuji certainly has the strength. So this match will probably depend on whether or not Kisenosato can outmaneuver Hokutofuji at the ring’s edge.  (12:50)


SUMO: 2017 Kyushu Basho (Day 6)

It’s Day 6 and the leaderboard looks like this: Three rikishi are undefeated (yokozuna Hakuho, ozeki Goeido, and M13 Aminishiki) with seven rikishi one win off the pace (ozeki Takayasu, sekiwake Mitakeumi, M3 Hokutofuji, M4 Ichinojo, M5 Arawashi, M12 Okinoumi, and M15 Nishikigi). The first number is surprisingly small leading into middle weekend, and the second number is about right . . . perhaps a little large. 

Mostly, the numbers don’t matter as long as Hakuho continues to fight like his recent injuries never happened. In yesterday’s match he clearly was toying with his opponent—M2 Tochiozan. Of course, over the past two years, he’s regularly toyed with Tochiozan, employing several nekodamashi [cat tricks] maneuvers against him, regularly giving him a dame-oshi [extra shove] after the match is won, and looking surprisingly pleased with himself after it’s all said and done. (At one point I thought that Hakuho actually LIKED Tochiozan and was using these moments to pressure him into performing better and “living up to his potential,” but I’ve changed my mind . . . now I think that Hakuho basically dislikes Tochiozan for some reason, and he’s just trying to make him look bad.)

It’s not that Hakuho is completely unassailable. Chances are good that he’ll lose a match or two in the next ten days. But the chances are very SLIM that any of his opponents will ALSO perform that well. Hakuho’s great power isn’t that he’s undefeatable, it’s that he can be counted on to regain focus after a loss and keep his overall record on a path that approaches perfection. And he has one advantage that NO ONE else in the basho can match—he never has to fight against Hakuho. Everyone else must, and therefore must also do BETTER than he does in their OTHER matches in order to absorb that extra loss.

That having been said, Goeido has certainly shown us that he, too, can approach perfection (as his one tournament win was a zensho-yusho [perfect record championship]). But he’s also shown us that he is more often likely to let one loss shake his confidence and suddenly slip into a multi-day losing streak (as he did in September, after a 10–1 start to the tournament). If he can master his weaker tendencies, Goeido can present a serious challenge to Hakuho.

The other remaining undefeated rikishi, Aminishiki, is the kind of dark horse it’s difficult to handicap. He’s way down the banzuke [ranking sheet] at M13, but he’s had a long and storied career, having been ranked as high as sekiwake on six different occasions. He knows how to win, and for at least the first ten days he’ll only be facing the lowest ranked of opponents, giving him an easier path to challenging final weekend. Of course, he’s ranked that low because it’s been a long time since he performed at a sekiwake level, and he relies more on trickery than domination these days. And, oddly, because of his low rank he ALSO gains the advantage of not having to fight Hakuho (unless they end up tied and go into a final day playoff).

And through all this, the pressure remains high on the half-dozen-or-so rikishi who are one win off the pace. They, too, must approach perfection over the next five days in order to remain within striking distance when the leaders stumble. If the leaders all stumble. 

M13 Aminishiki (5–0) vs. M11 Asanoyama (1–4)—Aminishiki is just back from a year in Juryo and he’s showing that he hasn’t lost any of his cleverness. He’s winning his bouts not by overpowering his opponents, but by taking their initial charges and then turning their preferred attacks against them. They’ve all been more or less wins by “reversal.” I think we’re due for him to pull a big ol’ henka [jump to the side at the tachi-ai] in one of these matches soon. He’s always been renowned for using those cleverly and effectively. (2:00)
M9 Endo (3–2) vs. M12 Okinoumi (4–1)—Two popular rikishi who have had shaky performances for most of 2017, but both seem to have turned things around here in the last tournament of the year. If they’re both as on their game as they’ve seemed thus far, this should be a very exciting match. (3:15)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (4–1) vs. komusubi Onosho (1–4)—Two rikishi who seem destined to be stars in the coming years. I think this is going to develop into one of the big rivalries of the coming decade. Mitakeumi is hampered at the moment with a badly stubbed toe (I’m guessing that it’s actually broken), while Onosho has been doing over-anxious sumo and leaving himself vulnerable to thust downs. We’ll see who performs better today. (10:40)
Ozeki Goeido (5–0) vs. M2 Chiyotairyu (1–4)—I was having an online discussion last night with a friend who roots hard for Goeido. Where I find him difficult to like because he so often fails to live up to his potential, my friend likes Goeido because when he pulls it all together he is among the best in the sport. Right now, Goeido seems to have everything under control . . . so my friend is enjoying his strong performance while I keep holding my breath waiting for him to slip up. (11:45)
Yokozuna Kisenosato (3–2) vs. M2 Tochiozan (0–5)—Kisenosato may have turned a corner in his confidence yesterday. He stayed calm, moved with certainty and conviction, and pulled a win out of a match where he was clearly in trouble. I think he’s probably still injured and can’t be as aggressive as he usually likes . . . but as long as he continues to find ways to win, it can only help his overall confidence as a yokozuna. (14:10)
M3 Shohozan (2–3) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (5–0)—Shohozan is a scrappy, street-fighter of a rikishi, and Hakuho seems not to like facing opponents like that. I don’t mean that he has trouble with them, but rather he goes out of his way to wrap those opponents up as quickly as possible to avoid the unpredictable thumping one gets in such matches. The longer Shohozan can stay out of of Hakuho’s grip, the better his chances of scoring an upset victory. (15:10)